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Opinion

Our vaccine rollout is right on track

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to takes its toll on the world, with the total number of cases worldwide now surpassing 200 million with the renewed surge attributed to the highly transmissible Delta variant. First detected in India, the Delta variant which has been identified as one of the four “variants of concern” by the World Health Organization is now present in more than 130 countries – from Europe, to Africa to Asia and North America.

In Asia, Indonesia has logged in over 100,000 total deaths with people dying at home because hospitals are already at full capacity. In Africa, the death toll has risen 80 percent in just one month, from 13,242 to 24,987 in the last 28 days with the rapid infection rate driven by the Delta variant.

The situation in the United States is, sadly, almost back to what it was like in the past, with new cases climbing to a daily average of 95,000 in the past week, or a five-fold increase in less than a month. The spike was observed in the states where the vaccination average has been low – Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, comprising half of the cases and hospitalizations, according to the White House, which characterized the situation as the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

A new variant known as “Delta Plus” has also been identified, which some experts believe could be even more transmissible. The Delta Plus has genetic similarities with the Delta strain but it has an extra mutation in its spike protein. While there are only 430 cases that have been detected, some 30 countries have reported the presence of the Delta Plus such as India, South Korea, the UK and the United States.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is the head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, had warned that a variant that could be worse than Delta may emerge and cause cases to double. Even for vaccinated people, there is also the possibility of a breakthrough infection and hence could transmit the coronavirus to other people. “We’re now dealing with a different virus,” Dr. Fauci warned.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also issued the same warning. Vaccinated people should continue to wear masks indoors.

What is clear, however, is that vaccines can prevent the risk of symptomatic infection by the Delta variant as well as reduce the severity of illness and death by more than tenfold as shown by several studies. This was seen in the United Kingdom that virtually went on a race against the Delta variant and ramped up its vaccination rollout. The UK has one of the highest vaccination rates, with more than 88 percent of adults having received at least one dose, while 73 percent have received two doses and are thus considered fully vaccinated. Despite the UK’s “wall of immunity,” many are concerned that cases could still rise if people shed off the mask and flout health protocols.

In the Philippines, we are very much on the ball and our vaccination rollout has so far been on track in reaching herd immunity by around November this year. According to Israeli health experts, the Philippines is doing exactly what Israel did in concentrating the vaccination rollout in highly populated urban areas.

As of Aug. 6, a total of 38,275,800 doses have been delivered to the Philippines, including the 6,239,000 doses donated by the United States. According to vaccine czar Secretary Charlie Galvez, 16,402,890 doses were received in July, and we are expecting to receive about 22,726,100 doses for August.

Globally, over 4.31 billion doses have been administered in 200 countries at a rate of 42.5 million doses per day. In terms of total doses administered, the Philippines ranks 24th out of 200 countries that have rolled out their vaccination programs, is the 10th out of 47 countries in the whole of Asia and is 2nd out of the 10-member nations of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

As of Aug. 5, the total number of vaccine doses administered has reached 23,199,187 with 12,493,997 Filipinos receiving their first dose while 10,705,190 have received their second dose – comprising 15.1 percent of the target population eligible for vaccination and representing 9.64 percent of the total population of the Philippines. Also on Thursday, the country reported its highest daily vaccination record of 710,482 doses.

Clearly, the government is speeding up the rate of vaccination all over the country to prevent the further spread of infections with the highly transmissible Delta variant. We will continue to push for on-time deliveries of what we have ordered and are very pleased that the United States, through the COVAX Facility, has the Philippines on their priority list.

However, a very irresponsible rumor about “walang bakuna, walang ayuda” (no vaccine, no financial assistance) during the imposition of enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila caused the sudden rush of hundreds of people to several government vaccination sites. This very irresponsible rumor is totally untrue and completely denied by the local government leaders and MMDA chairman Benhur Abalos.

These unscrupulous people who continue to spread false rumors think they are discrediting or bringing down the government. Don’t they realize they are only shooting themselves in the foot and exacerbating the situation for everyone else? We should all band together and cooperate with what is best for all. There will be plenty of time for criticism and the usual game of politics as soon as we have everything under control.

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Email: [email protected]

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